Category Archives: Christmas

A World-Without-End Bargain

I don’t know what you did this year, but you must have been naughty, because you’re getting my Christmas song (listen below!). Though I tend to be a very private person, I granted a rare interview with myself—to myself—so that you might learn more about this seasonal ode.

Q: Okay, that stops right there.
A: What?
Q: Flowery language like “seasonal ode.”
A: What if I’m talking about a poinsettia? Wouldn’t flowery language be appropriate then? Even necessary?
Q: This is going to be a long interview.

On celebrity cameos…
Q: What are a few of your favorite things about “The Christmas After This”?
A: Hey, I like what you did there!
Q: I’m not a total grinch.
A: One of my favorite things about this song is that it contains celebrity voices.
Q: Such as?
A: Such as Betty White quoting Robert Browning.
Q: How did you manage that?
A: I have my ways.
Q: Don’t pretend I don’t know your ways! I’m aware of everything you think, say, or do.
A: There are fifteen celebrity voices in all.
Q: Any more answers to questions I never asked?

On fanfare…
A: Another of my favorite things about this song is that it opens with literal fanfare.
Q: A short and lively sounding of trumpets?
A: Yes. Not to toot my own horn.
Q: Are you saying that you didn’t play trumpet on the recording?
A: No.
Q: So, you did play trumpet on the recording?
A: No. I’m saying yes, I didn’t play trumpet on the recording.
Q: I’m glad we cleared that up.
A: I’m not good with wind instruments. I don’t have enough hot air, if you can believe that.
Q: I really can’t.
A: I tried to learn the flute, when I was a kid, but I was awful. I kept going to the lessons, though, because I liked the orange soda in the vending machine.
Q: I’m pretending not to know you.

On Christmas love songs…
Q: What is “The Christmas After This” about?
A: It’s about getting engaged at Christmas, to be married the following Christmas.
Q: So, it’s a love song.
A: I think all Christmas songs are love songs.
Q: How so?
A: They woo the perfect Christmas—which remains sweetly out of reach.
Q: What did I say about flowery language?
A: Sorry.
Q: Do you think getting married on Christmas would be romantic?
A: I do. Just family and close friends. Big red bows everywhere, and pinecones. Candles burning. It’s perfect because everyone’s already in a festive mood.
Q: What’s your favorite part of Christmas?
A: Eggnog!
Q: Do you make it yourself?
A: I buy it at the store—apologies to the purists out there.
Q: Brandy, rum, or whiskey?
A: Neither, nor, nor. I find that alcohol impairs the nogginess of the flavor. Though I’m not opposed to an eggnog martini, as history has shown.

On three kinds of choruses…
Q: As you were recording this song—
A: And thanks for not lifting a finger to help—
Q: I noticed you included three different kinds of choruses.
A: I didn’t know you could count that high.
Q: Can you elaborate?
A: I thought your feeble intellect would prevent you—
Q: About the kinds of choruses!
A: Well, the first is a spoken chorus that introduces the song and provides a running commentary.
Q: How about the second kind?
A: That’s a regular old pop chorus that repeats the song’s main message.
Q: You mean, something like, “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah”?
A: Yes, but not that erudite.
Q: And the third kind?
A: It’s a choir-type chorus that offers an angelic counterpoint to my own terrible sound.
Q: Tell me more about the spoken chorus, which is something you don’t really see outside Greek or Elizabethan drama—perhaps with good reason.
A: It took me a while to figure out what the spoken chorus was doing. The song itself covers the marriage proposal, which takes place this Christmas. The spoken chorus spans from this Christmas to next Christmas, narrating from the engagement through the wedding ceremony.
Q: That’s almost interesting.
A: The spoken chorus is written in iambic tetrameter, if you must know—my God, you’re persistent!

On the Bard…
Where’s the Shakespeare?
A: Here, there, and everywhere.
Q: As usual.
A: The whole idea of waiting exactly a year to get married was lifted from Love’s Labour’s Lost. There are two direct quotes from that play in the song.
Q: Is it the line about snogging under the mistletoe?
A: Do you even know what “snogging” means?
Q: Hey, I ask the questions around here.
A: To me, the song’s spoken chorus is reminiscent, in purpose and tone, of the prologue in the play-within-the-play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Q: Congratulations. Maybe one person in the world knows what the heck you’re talking about.
A: Then at least I’ve reached another person.
Q: I was talking about you.
A: I picked up the word “glistering” from The Merchant of Venice.
Q: Sure, just keep going.
A: There’s the famous line, “All that glisters is not gold.” I love how “glister” seems to be a combination of “glitter” and “glisten.”
Q: I applaud your use archaic language that hasn’t been heard since the late sixteenth century and, even then, was outdated.
A: I’ll take your sarcasm as a compliment.
Q: It’s the closest you’re going to get.

On other influences…
Did you steal from anyone besides Shakespeare?
A: I once saw the comedian Gallagher smash a watermelon with a sledgehammer as part of his act.
Q: And that somehow inspired this song?
A: Not at all. What a strange question. But Christmas was a big influence. And music.
Q: Christmas and music. Can you be more specific?
A: Johnny Mathis is one of my favorite Christmas crooners. For the very last line of the song, I asked myself, “How would Johnny Mathis sing this?” I tried to channel his style.
Q: Were you successful?
A: I have no idea, but my dad once did Johnny Mathis’s taxes! That’s almost a tongue twister: “Mathis’s taxes.”
Q: Your father was an accountant?
A: No, a plumber.

“The Christmas After This” contains two sound effects, from

The Christmas After This


“The Christmas After This”



Christmas, “The First Noël,” “Deck the Halls,” Johnny Mathis, Greek and Elizabethan choruses, Love’s Labour’s Lost and other Shakespeare

F major

What I imagine Santa might say:

  • “This song is the musical equivalent of a lump of coal.”
  • “Frankly, I would have preferred an unspoken chorus.”
  • “I can’t believe I didn’t even get a mention.”
  • “Believe me, I’ve heard all the songs about Christmas, and let me tell you, this is one of them.”
  • “I’m a sucker for sleigh bells.”


All hark ye, park thee round the tree
To mark this merry comedy

Since we met
I’m in your debt
Now lend me your ear

Take my word
Let it be heard
How I need you here

Next Christmas
We’ll reminisce this
As both
Our troth
Do swear

The Christmas after this one
The Christmas after this, hon
The Christmas after this

A halo round a moonless stone
A glistering to gild your own

Take this ring
We’ll do our thing
For just one more year

Take a chance
On our romance
Forge a new frontier

Next Christmas
We’ll reminisce this
As both
Our troth
Do swear

The Christmas after this one
The Christmas after this, hon
The Christmas after this

An old guitar, romantic jargon
To seal a world-without-end bargain

[Hummed verse]

Take this song
And dream along
With your balladeer

[Instrumental pre-chorus and chorus]

A dress of wool, a suit of lace (“That’s backwards!”)
An oath beside the fireplace (“Egad, that’s hot!”)
Some nog for toasting, “Cheerio!”
A snog beneath the mistletoe

Take my hand
And it is planned
Yea, our day is near

Take my heart
We’ll never part
Nay, nor never fear

Next Christmas
We’ll reminisce this
As both (as both)
Our troth (our troth)
Do swear

I will be thine
Take all that’s mine

The Christmas after this one
The Christmas after this, hon
The Christmas after this

The Christmas after this kiss
The Christmas after this bliss
The Christmas after this

Christmas in July

I don’t have a new song to share (just a snippet), but I thought I would report on some compositions that have a chance of being recorded on my living room couch sometime soon.

I get ideas for songs all the time. Most of them offer a moment of amusement as they float in and out of my mind. The ones that stick get a working title and a file on my computer. A few of these continue to claim my attention as I go about trying to be a productive citizen. Typically, there’s an initial burst of inspiration, resulting in some rough lyrics—followed by the hard work (and pure joy) of fleshing out the “story,” hammering out the meter and rhyme scheme, and puzzling out the words. Sometimes, a tune that naturally undergirded the lyrics as they formed becomes the final melody. Otherwise, I listen. And wait.

Here are some song ideas that have stuck, in various stages of being realized. (All titles are working titles.)

“The Factory”

Current form:
Partial recording

An abandoned brick factory in the Hudson River Valley, the song “Sixteen Tons,” the Romantic poet Lord Byron, the musical Hadestown

Sample lyric:
Your mama was a leopard, get a look at those spots

Intrigued by a photo of the ruins of an old brick factory, I began writing the lyrics for “The Factory” in New Orleans last November—to the melody of “Sixteen Tons.” Merle Travis’s 1947 folk classic about a coal miner evoked a vibe that felt apropos for a song about a brick factory. My lyrics were largely intact within three weeks. Then came the excruciating task of extracting the iconic “Sixteen Tons” melody and replacing it with my far, far, far lesser one. I am in the midst of recording “The Factory,” but you can listen to the preliminary bridge here.

Preliminary Bridge for “The Factory”

“Ma Belle”

Current form:
Preliminary lyrics

The sights and sounds of Paris

Sample lyric:
When you were learning how to spell
Did you ride this carousel?

I penned the lyrics for “Ma Belle” (French for “my beautiful”) about six weeks ago, in Paris and on the flight home. So far, every line either repeats or rhymes with belle. The song contains a complete sentence in French, and I don’t speak French at all, so I’m preparing myself for total humiliation. (I might have done better with a song inspired by Madrid. Or London.) “Ma Belle” is presently sans mélodie.

“The Christmas After This”

Current form:
Partial lyrics

Christmas, the play Love’s Labour’s Lost

Sample lyric:
Next Christmas
We’ll reminisce this

About two weeks ago, I started writing a Christmas song! I have hardly kept my fondness for Christmas music a secret from this blog. (See Christmix Tape and Please Have Snow and Mistletoe.) I am thrilled by the idea of contributing to this timeless canon, even if only a few people will ever hear “The Christmas After This”—which is based on a monologue from one of Shakespeare’s early comedies. The best part is that I have almost half a year to finish it!

Isaiah’s Bucket List

Current form:
A few notes jotted down

An Uber driver in Dallas

Isaiah gave me a ride from a hotel in downtown Dallas to DFW. He told me that before retiring, he had driven a bus for thirty years—winning a trip to Jamaica as bus driver of the year (twice). Isaiah wants to visit three places before his time on earth is up: Alaska (because he’s amazed that people can live where it’s so cold), New York City (because you can get a pizza there at three in the morning), and Hawaii (because the air smells like flowers). Isaiah has a wife and two grown children. He thinks the big houses on the highway are too close together. His voice is like molasses.

Finally, a few songs that are just working titles at this point:

“The Day We Never Met”

“Turn Your Back”

“R Kid”

Stay tuned!

Christmix Tape

This year, thanks to Spotify, my fondness for Christmas music has escalated to something of an addiction. I was born Jewish but raised less observant than probably any other Jewish person I have ever met, with the possible exception of my sister. Still, why Christmas music, Mix tapewhen I could be listening to alternative hits of the 80s? I think I enjoy the ultimate content of the songs—peace, joy, love, celebration, and togetherness. Besides, many of the classic Christmas songs were written by Jews, so maybe my affection isn’t that odd.

I have listened to so much Christmas music since the day after Thanksgiving that I can now tell the difference between the voices of Perry Como, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra. Some artists, like Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, and Elvis Presley, are naturals at belting out Christmas tunes. Often, as I listened, I would find myself thinking, “You know, I have heard 20 or 30 versions of this song, but this one is really special.” The marriage of performer and material was just right. Such recordings were no longer Christmas songs but good songs, even great songs. For example, the only natural response to Josh Groban’s live performance of “O Holy Night” is “Oh, holy s#*t!” It’s that phenomenal. I began to formulate a fantasy “mix tape” (sorry, young’uns, if you don’t get the reference) of standout renditions:

Side A

  • Michael Bublé, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
  • Sammy Davis, Jr., “Jingle Bells”
  • Dean Martin and Martina McBride, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
  • She & Him, “The Christmas Waltz”
  • Brenda Lee, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”
  • Amy Grant, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

Side B

  • Kelly Clarkson, “Blue Christmas”
  • Lady Antebellum, “A Holly Jolly Christmas”
  • Mary J. Blige, “My Favorite Things”
  • The Drifters, “White Christmas”
  • Harry Connick Jr., “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow”
  • Josh Groban, “O Holy Night”

These festive songs, thoroughly vetted by a discerning Jew, are worth seeking out. Happy Holidays!

Please Have Snow and Mistletoe

Let me start by saying that I observe December 25 with Chinese food and a movie. But that doesn’t mean I am immune to the Christmas spirit. In fact, I seem to be quite susceptible to it lately. One reason may be that I bake cupcakes, and the cupcake community promotes seasonal offerings. For "Candy cane" cupcakesexample, I made mini “candy cane” cupcakes this year. Another way I have succumbed to the most wonderful time of the year is by really noticing, for the first time, its omnipresent music.

Although I know the season’s songs are often as maligned as its fruitcake, I find myself getting pulled into the idyllic scenes they draw. For example, I want to take a sleigh ride together with you and then rock around the Christmas tree, have the corn you’ve brought for poppin’, and conspire as we dream by the fire. Our troubles will be miles away! (Although I have a terrible feeling that Frosty the Snowman will not be back again someday. The sun was hot that day . . .)

I am on the outside of Christmas, and maybe that’s the best distance from which to enjoy its soundtrack. I have read enough Dear Prudence to know that the actual celebration of the holiday is frequently far from perfect. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, the incidence of depression is greatest at Christmastime. I can’t help but wonder if these sentimental ballads foster expectations for festivity straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, which can never be met—resulting in inevitable disappointment.

On the other hand, perhaps they are simply love songs, wooing the perfect Christmas—which remains sweetly out of reach. And I feel swept up in the romance. In that vein, the holidays represent ideals—such as brotherhood, home, peace, love, and joy—to which we aspire. I think I respond emotionally to the depiction of these themes. I can’t hear (Bing Crosby’s rendition of) “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” written from the point of view of an overseas soldier during World War II, without getting a tear in my eye. Its melancholy twist (“If only in my dreams”) highlights our separation from cherished ideals.

Or maybe I just have Christmas envy. Fa la la la la, la la la la.